iPhone 5 alternatives

As the hype around Apple's just-launched iPhone 5 continues to rage, you'd be mistaken for assuming it was the only game in town.

It isn't. Despite five million of Apple's newest and best finding homes in the first three days of retail availability, the iPhone 5 is only one smartphone amid a growing wave of devices.

IDC data for the second quarter of 2012 shows global market share for smartphones powered by Google's Android operating system hit 68.1 per cent compared to 16.9 per cent for Apple's iPhone. Android handset shipments were up 106.5 per cent year over year, to 50.8 million. Although Apple's sales were up 27.5 per cent to 26 million handsets in the same timeframe, this lagged behind the overall market's 44 per cent growth rate.

With new platforms from Microsoft and Research In Motion waiting in the wings, now is an ideal time to look at some alternative hardware. Some of the key players include the following:

Currently embroiled in the tech industry's nastiest-ever global legal battle — fresh off a major victory in a California court, Apple is battling to shut down sales of Samsung's top-tier phones in the U.S. just as Samsung tries to do the same to the iPhone 5 — Samsung remains Apple's most formidable competitor.

Its Galaxy S III flagship may have been eclipsed by Apple's latest, but the Korean giant is reportedly readying an even more powerful followup, the S IV, for release around March next year.

Its Galaxy Note 2, complete with a 5.5-inch screen and a stylus, stretches the bounds of just how big a phone can get, and exemplifies Samsung's strategy: while Apple sells one top-end phone, plus a couple of previous-generation devices, Samsung floods the market through the year with a barrage of different products. Its strategy, based on multiple devices, sizes, feature sets, price points and even operating systems — its Ativ lineup is based on Windows Phone 8 — is already paying off: Samsung's market share hit 44 per cent last quarter, making it the world's top smartphone vendor.

The storied American brand almost crashed and burned after hanging on to its once-hot RAZR line of feature phones for too long. After Google's blockbuster $12.5 billion U.S. buyout last year, the company's been focused on bringing consumers back into the fold with updated Android-based smartphones. Only the sub-brand — RAZR — remains the same. The RAZR Maxx HD shoots for flagship honours, with a reported all-day battery, 4.7-inch screen and the latest version of Android, 4.1/Jelly Bean. The RAZR M targets the more price conscious end of the market.

When feature phones ruled, Nokia ruled, too. After stumbling badly when the market transitioned to smartphones, Nokia inked a partnership with Microsoft and released its first wave of phones based on Windows Phone 7.Despite critical acclaim, sales have been cool. The company says its updated phones running the upcoming Windows Phone 8 operating system will connect with consumers.

The top-end Lumia 920 breaks new ground for mobile photographers, with a trick lens and stabilization system. Its touchscreen also works with gloved fingers. The smaller, cheaper Lumia 820 has a slot for a memory card, and allows users to change cases, including one that supports wireless charging.

Nokia may be betting the company on an operating system that according to IDC commands only 3.5 per cent of the smartphone market, but the research company says the future is much brighter for Microsoft's baby — and the hardware vendors that come along for the ride. It expects Windows Phone to outsell Apple's iOS by 2016 to take second spot behind Android.

The company has spent most of the last decade building devices on contract for other vendors — including Google's first superphone, the Nexus One — but is now aiming to build its own brand, as well. Its HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S devices are light, colourful and powerful — and are already stealing some of Nokia's thunder. Interestingly, the 8X shares HTC's corporate top rung with its Android-powered One X.

Research In Motion
As demand for the company's current lineup of BlackBerry 7-based devices wanes — RIM reports earnings this Thursday as developers gather in San Jose for the BlackBerry Jam Americas conference — all eyes are on Q1 2013, when smartphones based on BlackBerry 10 hit store shelves. First out of the gate is an expected all-glass device with a predictive virtual keyboard, followed soon after with a physical keyboard-based phone for BlackBerry traditionalists.

Despite Apple's near-dominance of the tech-cultural agenda in the wake of the iPhone 5 launch, it's clear that the competition for market share in the burgeoning smartphone space is intensifying. IDC predicts smartphone sales will grow 38.8 per cent in the coming year, while those for basic feature phones will fall 10 per cent. As the overall mobile phone market hits 1.8 billion units this year on its way to an estimated 2.3 billion in 2016, there's more than enough choice to go around.

Carmi Levy is a London, Ont.-based independent technology analyst and journalist. The opinions expressed are his own. carmilevy@yahoo.ca